Considered Poland’s greatest composer, Frédéric Chopin focused his efforts on piano composition and was a strong influence on composers who followed him. Best known for his solo pieces for piano and his piano concerti. Although he wrote little but piano works, many of them brief, Chopin ranks as one of music’s greatest tone poets by reason of his superfine imagination and fastidious craftsmanship.
Frédéric Chopin seems to be very interesting personality to our generation. If he had lived nowadays, he might have been called a celebrity. Charming, brilliant speaking, absolutely the most desirable guest at all salons of high society both in Poland and all over the world. The legacy of Chopin is well known throughout the world so I am not going to tell you what you have already known. Now I am going to make you immerse into his world. Shall I tell you about Frédéric Chopin`s favourite meals and beverages? Are you ready to “taste” his music?
“Taste” Chopin`s music
When you listen to Chopin`s compositions, I can bet you are doing it with all your senses. Mazurkas, polonaises, etudes “smells” like Polish spring meadows, grain on Masovian fields, air after storm high in the Tatra mountains. You may be impressed by that since Polish folk music impacted on Chopin`s works on massive scale. Also influences on his composition style include the classical tradition of J. S. Bach, Mozart and Schubert, as well as the Paris salons where he was a frequent guest. While listening to impromptus, scherzos, preludes and sonatas, you can see in your mind`s eyes the beauty of Palaces of Schönbrunn and Versailles, hear noises of Montmartre and smell coffee in Vienna. Have you already known that there are nearly three thousand café bars in the capital of Austria, the homeland of the world`s most distinguished composers? And speaking of coffee, Chopin was allergic to caffeine but a sort of coffee was his favourite which he used to drink almost every day. It was made of acorn. To find an acorn coffee and “taste” music of the greatest Polish composer I got to Chopin Point Warsaw. I am proud to have one thing in common with Chopin. I can`t drink coffee either. It ruins my health dramatically.
To meet Chopin, the varsovian, resident of Warsaw
Chopin Point is located at the heart of Warsaw, on the Royal Route, very close to The Old Town and Royal Castle. When I walked in the café bar, it was silent as it was still mid-morning. No guests had come yet. There were only tables and black grand piano. And countertop of the bar where you could find mouth-watering delicacies. Every evening the café bar turns into chamber music concerts` venue. The bar is removed to another room and guests can enjoy music.
I was there to meet Ms. Barbara Kotarba, the Chopin Point`s owner, who was former corporation`s employee, one of corpo people. One day she decided to quit this job and started a new career. And she went into something completely different. Since she has always been fond of Chopin`s music, she decided to unveil his personality as a varsovian – the resident of Warsaw. She was eager to talk about Chopin but first I was obliged to try acorn coffee which tasted really good. I wondered if my liver reacted to this beverage the same way it did to caffeine. To be honest with you, I worried a lot. But I tried this delicious drink which did not do any harm to my health.
Acorn coffee might have made Chopin develop skills and allowed him to become one of the world`s greatest composers
Ms. Kotarba: We still search any document, piece of information on what Chopin ate and drank. We are never going to give up however our task is extremely difficult. He was a very modest speaker. He never spoke about love for women or food. But we got to a source which says about acorn coffee which Chopin liked to drink. We serve it with spices, cloves and honey as acorn coffee itself is tang and bland. This coffee might have kept Chopin in good condition. Maybe it made him develop skills and allowed him to become one of the world`s greatest composers. The fact is he got respiratory system disease and died from tuberculosis but acorn coffee helped him in being active. Regardless the disease.
Left behind by his pupil
All the family had artistic leanings, and even in infancy Chopin was always strangely moved when listening to his mother or eldest sister playing the piano. By age six he was already trying to reproduce what he heard or to make up new tunes. The following year he started piano lessons with the sixty-one-year-old Wojciech Żywny, an all-around musician with an astute sense of values. Żywny’s simple instruction in piano playing was soon left behind by his pupil, who discovered for himself an original approach to the piano and was allowed to develop unhindered by academic rules and formal discipline.
Very talented young musician who was awarded for the best performance in Carnegie Hall in NYC
Ms. Kotarba: When day meets night, every day at 7 pm our café bar turns into concerts` venue. Frédéric Chopin performed mostly at private soirées, his compositions were made for small audience. That`s why we believe our concerts are the closest to the idea of Chopin`s music which was written for venues like this one. These evenings give us more pleasure than we expected. We invite very talented young musicians like Klaudia Pudełko who was awarded for the best performance in Carnegie Hall, NYC. We hope Chopin would have been proud of those performers.
Many foreigners and Polish tourists attend our concerts which is great but we would be very glad to host also residents of Warsaw. First of all we are going to show Chopin as a regular varsovian, a man like us who also had good and bad traits, and who was a little kid, too. We would also like to attract millennials to give them opportunity to immerse into interesting subject which is Chopin`s life.
He performed in the presence of the Russian tsar Alexander at the age of eleven
Chopin found himself invited at an early age to play at private soirées, and at eight he made his first public appearance at a charity concert. Three years later he performed in the presence of the Russian tsar Alexander I, who came over to Warsaw to open Parliament. Playing was not alone responsible for his growing reputation as a child prodigy. At seven he wrote a Polonaise in G Minor, which was printed, and soon afterward a march of his appealed to the Russian grand duke Constantine, who had it scored for his military band to play on parade. Other polonaises, mazurkas, variations, ecossaises, and a rondo followed, with the result that, when he was sixteen, his family enrolled him at the newly formed Warsaw Conservatory of Music. This school was directed by the Polish composer Joseph Elsner, with whom Chopin already had been studying musical theory.
Elsner made him a genius
Ms. Kotarba: You might ask why Chopin Point has been opened here. Besides excellent location on tourist route, we are where Frédéric Chopin gave a concert when he was thirteen years old. Not exactly on this spot – more specifically not on ground floor. A floor above where a ballroom was located. Chopin was also a frequent visitor in next building where his teacher Joseph Elsner was accommodated. Elsner had a huge impact on Chopin`s future career. He knew his pupil was unbelievably gifted. Elsner was the one who taught little Frédéric Chopin the basics of composition. In fact he made him a genius.
Interest in the folk music of the Polish countryside
No better teacher could have been found, for, while insisting on a traditional training, Elsner, as a Romantically inclined composer himself, realized that Chopin’s individual imagination must never be checked by purely academic demands. Even before he came under Elsner’s eye, Chopin had shown interest in the folk music of the Polish countryside and had received those impressions that later gave an unmistakable national colouring to his work. At the conservatory he was put through a solid course of instruction in harmony and composition. In piano playing he was allowed to develop a high degree of individuality.
If he had lived nowadays, he might have been called a celebrity
Ms. Kotarba: By the way, the building which Joseph Elsner lived in, hosts “Dziekanka”, the dormitory of students of The Frédéric Chopin University of Music in Warsaw. The University is also located in our neighbourhood. You can feel his spirit when you walk around.
But speaking of Chopin being a celebrity, I must agree, he might have been called one if he had lived nowadays. He was always smartly dressed. He was a brilliant speaker and a frequent guest at salons. Absolutely charming, he managed to convince every single lady who attended a party that he fell in love just with her. He was a regular heartbreaker however he never liked to talk about that.
A love affair with George Sand
But even in the era without online media, Chopin couldn`t have hidden every secret.
Though Chopin had had youthful love affairs and was at one time engaged, none of his relationships lasted more than a year. In 1838 he began a love affair with French novelist Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, aka, George Sand. The couple spent a harsh winter on the Spanish island of Majorca, where Chopin became ill. In March 1839, Sand realized that Chopin needed medical attention and took him to Marseille, where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
After a period of recuperation in Marseille, in May 1839 Chopin and Sand settled south of Paris in Nohant, Sand’s country home. The next seven years proved to be the happiest and most productive period of Chopin’s life. He steadily composed a series of masterpieces, including the Sonata in B Minor, the Opus 55 Nocturnes and the Opus 56 Mazurkas. The growing demand for his new works and his greater understanding of the publishing business also brought increased income and provided Chopin an elegant lifestyle.
Chopin`s favourite flowers have been known to be an aphrodisiac
Ms. Kotarba: It`s known that Chopin liked violets which typically have heart-shaped leaves and asymmetrical flowers. Few flowers have symbolized the renewal of spring, and the triumphs and tribulations of love, as much as the violet. The name may also come from its ancient use as an aphrodisiac and a love potion. Chopin was tight-lipped but maybe there was a reason he liked violets?
Sand’s unflattering portrayal of their relationship in her 1846 novel “Lucrezia Floriani”
By the mid-1840s, both Chopin’s health and his relationship with George Sand were deteriorating. His behaviour had also become erratic, possibly due to an undiagnosed form of epilepsy. Their affair ended in 1848 after, among other things, Sand’s unflattering portrayal of their relationship in her 1846 novel “Lucrezia Floriani”. In her novel, Sand used Chopin as a model for a sickly Eastern European prince named Karol. He is cared for by a middle-aged actress past her prime, Lucrezia, who suffers a great deal through her affection for Karol. Though Sand claimed not to have made a cartoon out of Chopin, the book’s publication and widespread readership may have exacerbated their antipathy to each other. However, the tipping point in their relationship involved her daughter Solange.
Chopin continued to be cordial to Solange after she and her husband, Auguste Clésinger, had a vicious falling out with Sand over money. Sand took Chopin’s support of Solange as outright treachery and confirmation that Chopin had always “loved” Solange. Sand’s son Maurice also disliked Chopin. Maurice wanted to establish himself as the “man of the estate” and did not wish to have Chopin as a rival for that role. Chopin was never asked back to Nohant.
At the end, both parties: Sand and Chopin were too proud to reconcile, and Chopin’s spirit and health were broken. He made an extended tour to the British Isles, where he struggled under an exhausting schedule, making his last public appearance on November 16th, 1848. He then returned to Paris, where he died at the Place Vendôme on October 17th, 1849, at age 39. Chopin was penniless at that time. His friends had to pay for his stay there, as well as his funeral at the Madeleine. The funeral was attended by over 3,000 people, including Eugène Delacroix, Franz Liszt, Victor Hugo and other famous people. George Sand, however, was notable by her absence. His body was buried at Père Lachaise cemetery, but his heart was interred at Holy Cross Church in Warsaw (3, Krakowskie Przedmieście Str., walking distance from Chopin Point Warsaw).
To “taste” Chopin and to try Polish “spirit”
Ms. Kotarba: Our menu is dedicated to Chopin`s favourite food. We serve chocolate which he liked so much. While being on tours he was always supplied with Belgian pralines. The Polish best candies are plums in chocolate. Chopin lost also his heart for Toruń`s gingerbread which is still baked. You can try all of them at our Chopin Point Warsaw.
We believe our guests should try snacks with Polish “spirit”. After growing up in Warsaw, Chopin moved to Paris in 1831 and would never return to his native Poland. He missed many things dearly about his childhood home, particularly Polish cuisine. Zrazy is said to be his favourite, a braised Polish roulade dish made of thin slices of beef rolled around any variety of fillings, such as vegetables and eggs. He liked grain products and food of common people. He got much better then. We run café bar so we don`t serve main courses. Instead, we prepare canapé with Polish cottage cheese, goats cheese, cheese cakes, roasted pork chop with horseradish sauce. Chopin loved wine and we are going to serve excellent wine from Polish vineyards soon. You should try it. It`s really gorgeous.
You can learn Chopin in many ways. I hope I have offered you something which is not like a museum. I hope to see you following Chopin`s trails in Warsaw. If you need more details, visit this website: www.chopinpoint.com.pl. You can also find them on FB.
See you at the heart of Chopin`s Warsaw
By Agata Szostkowska
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Photos: Michał Stanisławski
Ms. Kotarba and the stage where acknowledged artists perform
Frédéric Chopin’s favourite acorn coffee